In this episode we see the how the world’s most unique game of baseball took place, and where.
USS Sea Dragon Transcript
Welcome once again to History.icu. I’m James Dykstra, and today’s story goes to prove that old saying that there are three things that matter, and they are location, location, and location.
You’ve probably heard it said that this was a game for the ages, or a baseball game for all time. If you’ve heard them say that, they’re wrong. Because today’s game really was for all time.
The story starts with the launching of one of the first nuclear powered submarines in December 1959, which was the USS Seadragon. Named for a seahorse-like fish that bears a startling resemblance to the dragons of fairy tales, the Seadragon was commissioned and sent off for a shakedown cruise off the United States’ Eastern Seaboard and down into the Carribean.
On August 1, 1960, the Seadragon received orders to head to the Pacific Ocean, but instead of going through the Panama Canal, or even around the coast of South America, she was sent off to the Northwest Passage.
The Northwest Passage is a route between the islands of Canada’s Arctic. As an actual travel pass, it’s been more theoretical than real, because it’s frozen over much of the time, and with ice floes about, it can be hard to safely cross even when the waters are open. Before 1960, only a handful of ships, such as the Gjoa and the RCMPV St. Roch had ever managed the crossing. However, those ships had often spent much of the winter trapped in the ice and unable to move forward.
The USS Sea Dragon had a different route planned. It was not going to go through the ice of the Northwest Passage, but under it. The challenge for the Seadragon was that the Passage had been crossed so rarely, there were no charts to show navigational hazards like beaches, rocks and sandbars. As well, the constantly shifting nature of the Arctic ice pack meant that a passage that was passable yesterday might not be safe to cross today.
So the question that remained was how to get through. There were precious few soundings of the passage to determine the depth, and those that existed showed only shallow water. For the main part of the trip through Parry Strait, Captain George Steele did what he could and relied heavily on the notes of Edmund Parry who had crossed the strait above the ice about 120 years earlier.
Somehow it worked. With slow progress, and even a diversion to go under two icebergs, the USS Seadragon managed to get through the Northwest Passage. After entering the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska, the Seadragon headed for the North Pole, where she came up through the ice. This meant that the Seadragon was not the first vessel to go through the Passage, but she was the first to go under it.
As amazing as the crossing of the Northwest Passage under the ice was, other vessels have done similar feats since. However, what comes next in our story has never been repeated.
After surfacing the crew emerged from the Seadragon for some well deserved rest and relaxation. They decided to play baseball, and they had come prepared. The pitcher’s mound was built up directly on the geographic North Pole. That meant that no matter which way he turned, the pitcher always faced south, making everyone who pitched that day a “southpaw.”
In advance of the game, Captain Steele confidently predicted that the team of senior officers would beat the junior enlisted men, and expected hits that would go “from one side of the world to the other.”
Because of the unique location of this game, if a batter hit a home run, he would quite literally make a trip all the way around the world. Sounding more like an Abbott and Costello routine than a baseball game, a ball hit into right field flew into tomorrow, but one to left field remained in today. A triple play could take days to complete as the ball whipped back and forth over the International Date LIne.
While the game was started on August 25 1960, one crew member claimed that “we were never sure just what day we actually completed the game.” With its highly unusual location, we’ll never be sure if this was one of the longest games in baseball history, or one of those games that are truly timeless.
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